US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela regime as Russia ups support

Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido waves to supporters outside the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP)
Updated 02 March 2019
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US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela regime as Russia ups support

  • Four people were killed in the melee as Maduro's forces prevented the 178 metric tonnes of rice, beans and other food from crossing, with the leftist strongman seeing the aid as a pretext for a US-led invasion

WASHINGTON: The United States and Russia clashed Friday over how to assist ailing Venezuela, with Moscow pledging new relief channeled through President Nicolas Maduro and Washington slapping sanctions over the blocking of US aid it tried to force through the border.
A day after Russia and China vetoed a US and European resolution at the UN Security Council that called for unimpeded aid deliveries, Washington said it was targeting six Venezuelan military officers for stopping last weekend's US-led convoy.
Four people were killed in the melee as Maduro's forces prevented the 178 metric tonnes of rice, beans and other food from crossing, with the leftist strongman seeing the aid as a pretext for a US-led invasion.
"We are sanctioning members of Maduro's security forces in response to the reprehensible violence, tragic deaths and unconscionable torching of food and medicine destined for sick and starving Venezuelans," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The six include Major General Richard Jesus Lopez Vargas, the commander of the Venezuelan National Guard. The sanctions freeze any assets in the United States and penalize US financial dealings with the officials.
The United States also revoked the visas of 49 Venezuelan officials and their family members, the State Department said.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington has recognized as interim president, had hoped to triumph in bringing in the stockpiles of food, which the United States coordinated with Colombia and Brazil.
Guaido has said 300,000 people could die without an influx of aid into Venezuela. The United Nations says 2.7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015 as the socialist economy crumbles, with basic supplies out of reach to the masses.
More than 50 countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela's president -- but Maduro enjoys strong support from Russia, which is eager to challenge US interventionism, as well as China, which is concerned over the fate of billions of dollars Beijing has lent to Caracas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, receiving Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow, said Russia was stepping up shipments of wheat and was considering sending more medical supplies after shipping 7.5 tonnes worth.
"We are very closely cooperating and coordinating all our steps in the international arena," Lavrov said.
"This has acquired special significance now that Venezuela is facing a frontal attack and unabashed interference in its domestic affairs," he said.
Elliott Abrams, the US special representative on the crisis, charged that Maduro's forces would turn Russian aid into a "political weapon" by providing it only to supporters.
"Obviously we are in favor of giving humanitarian assistance to Venezuela; we are not in favor of giving it to this corrupt regime," Abrams told reporters in Washington.
Lavrov voiced hope that international pressure would "cool hotheads in Washington" who he said are seeking military intervention in Venezuela.
He alleged that the United States was planning to buy small arms, mortar launchers and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles from an "Eastern European country" and station them "close to Venezuela."
President Donald Trump has not ruled out military intervention in Venezuela, although even close US allies have said they would not support the use of force.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has worked closely with Trump to seek Maduro's ouster, appeared this week to suggest a violent climax as he posted on Twitter two pictures of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi -- one relaxed and smiling while in power, the other bloodied as he was lynched in an uprising.
Defying a travel ban by Maduro, Guaido went first to Colombia to try to bring in the aid and to meet with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
The 35-year-old political newcomer continued on to Brazil, where he met the new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and on Friday traveled to Paraguay.
Speaking to reporters in Brasilia on Thursday, Guaido said he would return home "at the latest on Monday" despite threats to arrest him.
Abrams said the United States was "very concerned" about Guaido's ability to return home safely and warned of a "very large reaction" if he is arrested.


Mauritania’s electoral commission confirms Ghazouani win

Updated 24 June 2019
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Mauritania’s electoral commission confirms Ghazouani win

  • The result had been widely expected
  • The election paves the way for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania: Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a retired general who served as defense minister before being picked as the chosen successor to Mauritania’s outgoing president, won the weekend election by a large margin, the country’s electoral commission announced.
The result had been widely expected and was swiftly confirmed after Ghazouani claimed victory Saturday evening within hours of polls closing.
The election paves the way for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960, though retiring President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz had a hand in choosing his successor. Aziz was barred from seeking a third term under Mauritania’s constitution.
Ghazouani received 52 percent of the vote, while Biram Dah Abied, a human rights activist who has campaigned against slavery in the West African nation, received nearly 19 percent, according to the electoral commission.
Mauritania, a desert nation and moderate Islamic republic, has managed to avoid the spillover in violence from neighboring Mali that has plagued Burkina Faso and Niger.
Mauritania, though, has suffered five coups since independence, and has been led by military rulers for much of that time. Aziz himself was head of the presidential guard when he seized power in a 2008 coup, although he said he did so to prevent a return to repressive military rule.
He then won a landslide election the following year that his opponents decried as a fraudulent “electoral coup.” Most opposition parties boycotted the 2014 election, when Aziz won 82 percent of the vote according to official results.
Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981 but did not criminalize it until 2007. The United States ended trade benefits with Mauritania late last year, saying that the country is not making sufficient progress toward combating forced labor, including slavery. The Mauritanian government, however, denies that slavery is widespread in the country.